Finnish Forces in Barbarossa I

_10_ Finnish Soldiers during Barbarossa

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The OKW was given the responsibility under the Barbarossa Directive to make the necessary arrangements to put Romanian and Finnish contingents under German command. There is no evidence that this was seriously tried with respect to Finland. Command and command relationships were discussed during the Finnish delegation’s visit to Germany in May 1941. The Germans wanted General Falkenhorst to command the forces in north and central Finland while Mannerheim would command in the south.

German planners had previously assumed that Mannerheim would be given overall command in Finland. This is reflected in the OKW directive on April 7, 1941. That idea was now dropped, and their chance of bringing Mannerheim, a rather independent individual, under their control was lost as well. In doing so the Germans disregarded another well-known warning of their military philosopher and theorist Clausewitz that the worst situation is where two independent commanders find themselves operating in the same theater of war.

Ziemke and Erfurth speculate that this change came about because of an OKW desire to command in an active theater of operations. There was probably another and more practical reason. Hitler became exceedingly worried about the security of northern Norway and the iron and nickel mines in Sweden and Finland after the British raid on the Lofoten Islands in March 1941, and began a major force build-up. Mountain Corps Norway was an integral part of the defense of north Norway and Hitler and the OKW may well have been reluctant to place a good part of this area under Finnish command. Falkenhorst was still the German armed forces commander in Norway and it made some sense to also have him as commander in central and northern Finland.

Mannerheim wrote after the war that he received indirect feelers—from General Erfurth to General Heinrichs—about assuming overall command in Finland. There is some confusion in the sources as to when these feelers were made. Mannerheim gives the time of the offer as June 1941 while Erfurth places it in June 1944. Mannerheim writes about the 1941 offer that he was not attracted by the idea and gives as his reason a reluctance to become too dependent on the German High Command. Mannerheim does not mention the 1944 offer in his memoirs but Erfurth writes that Mannerheim replied to it on June 29, 1944, with the statement that he was too old to take over the additional responsibilities that the position of commander in chief of all forces in Finland would entail. The 1944 offer, if made, was probably an attempt to tie Finland firmly to Germany at a time when it was beginning to go its own way.

In addition to failing to settle on an overall commander, operations in Finland came under two separate German headquarters. The German commander in chief in northern and central Finland, whose main focus was on isolating Murmansk, reported to the OKW after Hitler’s changes to the command structure following the Lofoten raid in March 1941. OKH—responsible for operations on the Eastern Front—was left to deal with operations in southern Finland. The axiomatic belief in both Germany and Finland that the looming war would be short was probably the greatest contributing factor to this deficient command arrangement. This short-war scenario undoubtedly made many feel that no elaborate command structure or long-range plans were necessary.

There was no joint German–Finnish campaign plan much beyond the initial attacks. The loose and informal nature of the coalition, the lack of long-range planning, and an ineffective command structure posed increasing problems as the war dragged on. These massive violations of long-standing military principles could have been rectified by Hitler and the OKW, but they failed to act.

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